Full Text Political Transcripts December 6, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors Reception Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President to the 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees

Source: WH, 12-6-15 

East Room

5:15 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Please, everybody, have a seat, have a seat.  Have a seat and welcome to the White House.  This is a good-looking group.  (Laughter.)  President Kennedy once said, “There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.”

I believe he was right.  Our achievements as a country and as a culture go hand-in-hand.  The oldest of the 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees was born over 90 years ago — you won’t be able to tell.  (Laughter.)  But when we look back on the last century, for all the challenges we faced, what we see is a time of extraordinary progress.  We won one World War, and then another.  We endured one depression, and prevented another.  And through it all, we created new medicines and technologies that changed the world for the better.  We welcomed new generations of striving immigrants that made our country stronger.  We worked together, and marched together, to open up new doors of opportunity for women, African Americans, Latinos, LGBT Americans, Americans with disabilities -– achievements that made all of us more free.

Tonight, we honor five artists who helped tell the story of the first American century through music, theater, and film -– and by doing so, helped to shape it, helped to inspire it, helped to fortify our best instincts about ourselves.

(Baby makes noises.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  (Laughter.)  It includes your grandpa.  (Laughter.)

About 80 years ago, the ship carrying a young girl named Rosa Dolores Alverio — (applause) — from Puerto Rico — (applause) — came into New York City, steamed by the Statue of Liberty.  “Oh my goodness,” she thought, “a lady runs this country!”  (Laughter and applause.)  She wasn’t yet known by the stage name of Rita Moreno, but even then, she knew she wanted to be a star.  At age nine, she debuted as a dancer.  At 13, she set foot in a Broadway theatre for the first time in her life -– as a member of the cast.  At 30, she became the first Latina to win an Academy Award for her unforgettable performance as “Anita” in “West Side Story.”

(Baby makes noises.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, it was good, wasn’t it?  (Laughter.)

After more than seven decades on stage and screen, Rita’s one of just a handful of artists to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.  She’s got an “EGOT.”  (Applause.)  But being a pioneer is never easy.  For years, she was pigeonholed as what she called, “the house ethnic.”  She says she played all her parts with the same accent, because nobody “seemed to care.”  And when she pushed back against Hollywood typecasting, the roles dried up.  But Rita refused to sell herself short.  This is a woman who won the Tony for best supporting actress, then concluded her acceptance speech by reminding everyone, “I am a leading lady — I am not a supporting actress.”  (Laughter and applause.)

And she was right.  She was the leading lady of that show.  And she is still a leading lady of her era, a trailblazer with the courage to break through barriers and forge new paths.  Eight decades after Rita Moreno first laid eyes on the Statue of Liberty, she continues to personify its promise:  that here, in America, no matter what you look like or where you come from or what your last name is, you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)

As a teenager in Tokyo, an aspiring classical pianist named Seiji Ozawa defied his mother’s orders and joined a rugby match.  Now, I have to say, looking at you Seiji, I’m not sure that was a good idea.  (Laughter.)  I mean, I don’t know much about rugby.  (Laughter.)  He broke two fingers, and that put an end to his piano-playing career –- but fortunately for the rest of us, it opened up the door to a career as a conductor.

Here, Michelle and my mother-in-law would like me to point out that defying one’s mother does not usually work out well.  (Laughter.)

But there are exceptions, and for Seiji, it did.  In 1960, when he was 25 years old, he landed at Logan Airport with only a few words of English and a sign that read, “Lennox, Mass.” But his work as a conductor spoke volumes.  Just a few weeks later, the New York Times pronounced him “a name to remember.”  He went on to become Leonard Bernstein’s assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic, and then led the Toronto and San Francisco Symphonies, all by the time he was 35.  It makes you feel kind of underachieving.  (Laughter.)  His conducting was somehow sensitive and intense, drawing the “lyric essence” of every note.  And with his mop haircut, and his turtlenecks, and his love beads, he almost looked like a Beatle.  (Laughter.)

And in 1973, Seiji found his musical home with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he led for 29 years.  When he wasn’t cheering on his beloved Red Sox and Patriots, he was transfixing audiences with passionate, precise performances conducted entirely from memory, using his whole body -– elbows, fingers, knees, hair -– (laughter) — as a baton.  Seiji has dedicated his life to bridging East and West with classical music.  In his words, “Music is easier to understand than language — it can be understood right away.  Just like the sunset, which is beautiful wherever you watch it.”  (Applause.)

As a child in Harlem, Cicely Tyson sold shopping bags on the street corner to make — to help her family make ends meet.  After high school, she found work as a secretary — until one day she stood up and announced to everyone in the room, “[I am] sure that God did not put me on the face of this Earth to bang on a typewriter for the rest of my life!”  (Laughter and applause.)

Cicely was already displaying what you could call a flair for the dramatic.  (Laughter.)  And like all great actors, she never just plays a character -– she becomes one.  “I’m looking inside myself,” she once explained.  “Inside of me is where this character is coming from.”

It certainly took character to get where she is today.  As a black woman, Cicely wasn’t offered many roles with the pay and stature her tremendous talent should have commanded.  But that only steeled her resolve.  She once said, “When I became aware of the kind of ignorance that existed, I made a very conscious decision that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress — I had some very important things to say, and I would say them through my work.”

Cicely has been saying important things for nearly 60 years, from “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” to “Sounder,” to “The Trip to the Bountiful.”  And even now, eight shows a week, she walks onto a Broadway stage to beat James Earl Jones in hand after hand of rummy in “The Gin Game.”  (Laughter and applause.)  At 90 years old, she’s still delivering remarkable, heartfelt performances night after night after night -– just like God intended, and she sure does look good doing it every night.  (Applause.)  Cicely Tyson.  (Applause.)

At age 15, a young woman named Carol Klein formed a doo-wop group with her friends called “The Co-Sines” — Co-Sines — that’s a little math.  (Laughter.)  They did great with the hard-to-reach trigonometry demographic.  (Laughter and applause.)  Around the same time, Carol talked to a DJ, and asked him the best way to get in touch with record companies.  He told her a secret –- look them up in a phone book.  (Laughter.)  So Carol made some calls, landed a contract, and took on the stage name of Carole King.

It turned out to be a perfect choice -– because today, in the world of American music, Carole is royalty.  By the time she was 30, she’d teamed up with Gerry Goffin to write hits like “Up on the Roof” for The Drifters.  “One Fine Day” for The Chiffons.  “The Loco-Motion” for Little Eva.  And of course, “You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)” – I think I just became the first President ever to say that.  (Laughter and applause.)  It sounded better when Aretha said it.  (Laughter and applause.)

And then finally, in the 1970s, Carole found the perfect voice for her songs, which was her own.  At one point, her solo album “Tapestry” — which, by the way, was one of the first albums I ever bought — was the highest-selling album of any genre in history.  It stayed on the charts for six years, full of songs you could not get out of your head -– songs about home, and friendship, and vulnerability; songs about just being human.  And that’s what makes Carole so special.  Whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall — (laughter) — whether she’s fighting with passion for our environment or campaigning for the causes that she believes in; Carole is always that honest, unvarnished voice –- the friend who tells you again and again that you are beautiful — as beautiful as you feel.  (Applause.)

George Lucas recently shared one of his regrets. He told a reporter, “I never got the experience that everyone else got to have.  I never got to see ‘Star Wars.’”  (Laughter.)

Well, George, let me tell you -– you missed out.  It was really good. (Laughter.)  That movie was awesome.  (Laughter.)

As one wise Jedi Master might put it, “Changed nearly everything, George Lucas has.”  (Laughter.)  George was at the vanguard of the New Hollywood, blending genres and combining timeless themes with cutting-edge technology.  Without him, movies would not look as good or sound as good as they do today.  Spaceships might still fly around the screen with little strings attached to them.  (Laughter.)  The effects were only part, though, of what makes George special.  He created a mythology so compelling that in a 2001 census, the fourth-largest religion in the United Kingdom was “Jedi.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Think about how many children have been raised, at least in part, by George Lucas.  (Laughter.)  Think about how many young people searching for their place in the universe have thought to themselves, “If a kid from Tatooine moisture farm can go from bulls-eyeing womp rats in his T-16 to saving the galaxy, then maybe I can be something special too?”  (Laughter.)  How many engineers got their start arguing about the structural flaws in the Death Star?  How many philosophers got their start arguing about whether Han shot first?  (Laughter.)  How many bookish teenagers have taken solace in the fact that the most charismatic guy on the planet is an archeologist named Indiana Jones?  (Laughter.)

George, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they might even make a brand new “Star Wars” movie soon.  (Laughter.)  It’s very low-key, it’s not getting a lot of promotion.  (Laughter.)  But it’s also pretty remarkable that nearly 40 years after the first star destroyer crawled across the screen, we are still obsessed with George’s vision of a galaxy far, far away.  And we’ll be raising our children on his stories for a long, long time to come.  (Applause.)

Rita Moreno.  Seiji Ozawa.  Cicely Tyson.  Carole King.  George Lucas.  Each of these artists was born with something special to offer their country and the world.  Each of them found a way to enrich our lives with their lives’ work.  For all the joy and the pleasure, all the insight and the understanding that they have brought to us over the years, we want to thank them -– and we sure are proud to celebrate them as our 2015 Kennedy Center Honorees.  Please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

END
5:32 P.M. EST

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Full Text Political Transcripts December 6, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Oval Office Address on Fighting ISIS Terrorism

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Address to the Nation by the President

Source: WH, 12-6-15

Oval Office

8:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  On Wednesday, 14 Americans were killed as they came together to celebrate the holidays.  They were taken from family and friends who loved them deeply. They were white and black; Latino and Asian; immigrants and American-born; moms and dads; daughters and sons.  Each of them served their fellow citizens and all of them were part of our American family.

Tonight, I want to talk with you about this tragedy, the broader threat of terrorism, and how we can keep our country safe.

The FBI is still gathering the facts about what happened in San Bernardino, but here is what we know.  The victims were brutally murdered and injured by one of their coworkers and his wife.  So far, we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas, or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home.  But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.  They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs.  So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people.

Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.  In the process, we’ve hardened our defenses — from airports to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure.  Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe.  Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas — disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership.

Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase.  As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society.  It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino.  And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.

For seven years, I’ve confronted this evolving threat each morning in my intelligence briefing.  And since the day I took this office, I’ve authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is.  As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people.  As a father to two young daughters who are the most precious part of my life, I know that we see ourselves with friends and coworkers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino.  I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris.  And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.

Well, here’s what I want you to know:  The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.  We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.  Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear.  That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for.  Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.

Here’s how.  First, our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary.  In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure.  And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies — including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign, which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.

Second, we will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground so that we take away their safe havens.  In both countries, we’re deploying Special Operations Forces who can accelerate that offensive.  We’ve stepped up this effort since the attacks in Paris, and we’ll continue to invest more in approaches that are working on the ground.

Third, we’re working with friends and allies to stop ISIL’s operations — to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters.  Since the attacks in Paris, we’ve surged intelligence-sharing with our European allies.  We’re working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria. And we are cooperating with Muslim-majority countries — and with our Muslim communities here at home — to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online.

Fourth, with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process — and timeline — to pursue ceasefires and a political resolution to the Syrian war. Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country, including our allies, but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL — a group that threatens us all.

This is our strategy to destroy ISIL.  It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts, together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition.  And we constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done. That’s why I’ve ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa *Waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country.  And that’s why I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.

Now, here at home, we have to work together to address the challenge.  There are several steps that Congress should take right away.

To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun.  What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?  This is a matter of national security.

We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino.  I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures.  But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology.  What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill.

Next, we should put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to warzones.  And we’re working with members of both parties in Congress to do exactly that.

Finally, if Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists.  For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets.  I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.

My fellow Americans, these are the steps that we can take together to defeat the terrorist threat.  Let me now say a word about what we should not do.

We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria.  That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield.  ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq.  But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.

The strategy that we are using now — airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country — that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.  And it won’t require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.

Here’s what else we cannot do.  We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.  That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.  ISIL does not speak for Islam.  They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world — including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim.  If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities.  This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse.  Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.  It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.  It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.  Because when we travel down that road, we lose.  That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.  Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.  We have to remember that.

My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.  We were founded upon a belief in human dignity — that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges — whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks — by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.  So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.

Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

END
8:14 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts December 6, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Hanukkah

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Hanukkah

Source: WH, 12-6-15

Tonight, Jews in America, Israel, and around the world come together to light the first candle of the Festival of Lights. At its heart, Hanukkah is about the struggle for justice in the face of overwhelming obstacles. It’s a chance to reflect on the triumph of liberty over tyranny, the rejection of persecution, and on the miracles that can happen even in our darkest hours. It renews our commitment as Americans – as people who live by faith and conscience – to lead the way and act as unyielding advocates for the fundamental dignity of every human being.

During these eight days, let us be inspired by the light that can overcome darkness. As we recall the Maccabees’ struggle to free a people from oppression, let us rededicate ourselves to being the engine of the miracles we seek. May the lights of the menorah brighten your home and warm your heart, and from my family to yours, Chag Sameach.

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